Summer is right around the corner, and that means one thing: beer.
There are over 2,800 breweries in the United States. That makes it hard to know where to begin when planning a beer-based adventure. So we picked five surefire starters.
We can already hear your wails of disbelief: What about Chi-town, Seattle, Austin, Bend, and Boston? No Philly? Really? Those are all undeniably great beer towns, but these five have it on lock right now.
Come with us as we count down the top five American cities for beer, list the great breweries in each place—and show you what to order once you hit town.
5. Asheville, North Carolina
Why You Should Go Here: Eclectic Asheville is poised to brew up some serious East Coast thunder this year, with the arrival of Eastern outposts for craft brew powerhouses Sierra Nevada and New Belgium, joining an already top-tier beer scene anchored by Wicked Weed Brewing and Green Man, along the Asheville Beer Trail. Try them all—and many more—at The Thirsty Monk, one of the best beer bars in America during Asheville Beer Week, coming up May 23-31.
What to drink: Tyrant Double Red at Wicked Weed Brewing.
An ale at Thirsty Monk. (Courtesy: Thirsty Monk)
4. San Francisco
Why should should go here: SF’s historic beer scene, along with that of Berkeley and Oakland, has reached a rolling boil. The beer history here runs deep. Fritz Maytag helped fire up the entire American craft brewery scene when he relaunched the dormant Anchor brand in 1969. Today, there are dozens of brewing facilities in and around the city, as well as world-class beer bars, including Magnolia Brewing, Toronado Pub, Mikkeller Bar, Monk’s Kettle, Zeitgeist, Church Key, and Press Club. Head across the Bay to hit Oakland’s Linden St. Brewery and The Trappist, as well as Berkeley’s The Rare Barrel, which just released its first beers to much acclaim (and gold and bronze medals at the 2014 World Beer Cup).
What to drink: Kalifornia Kolsch at Magnolia Brewing.
Zeitgeist—one of San Francisco’s world-class beer bars. (Courtesy: Zeitgeist)
Why you should go here: Coors may have named the pro ball field, but craft beer rules the Mile High City. As home to The Great American Beer Festival and a swath of killer breweries, including Wynkoop, Great Divide, Former Future, and Hogshead, Denver draws beer lovers by the bushel. The food scene is going gangbusters, and beer bars like Falling Rock Taphouse, Star Bar, Euclid Hall, and Fresh Craft flow with fresh taps nightly. Side trips to nearby Boulder, Lyons, Aurora, and Fort Collins, add some 50 more excellent stops.
What to drink: Titan IPA at Great Divide
Noah Regnery pours a glass of his Gold Medal “Pseudo IPA” at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. (Photo: AP)
2. San Diego
Why you should go here: The hops-happy concentration of breweries in San Diego and the surrounding area just keeps growing, with new outposts like Modern Times, Thorn Street, Hess, and Societe adding to the world-wide prestige created by Stone, Alesmith, and Alpine Brewing Co, among others. The chilled out North Park neighborhood has the best scene, with former “Top Chef” contestant Amanda Baumgarten’s airy Waypoint Public gastropub joining Toronado, Hamilton’s, and Bottlecraft, a huge bottle shop with a food cart-style restaurant in back. There’s even a commercial yeast company with its own 32-tap bar, White Labs.
What to drink: Pure Hoppiness Imperial IPA at Alpine Brewing Co.
(Courtesy: Waypoint Public)
1. Portland, Oregon
Why you should go here: Bike-friendly Portland’s overall beard-to-plaid-shirt ratios may mark it as a Brooklyn West, but it’s far more affordable, navigable, and craft beer-soaked than the Borough of Kings. Portland has globe-leading 55 breweries and counting (!), many reachable on foot or by cheap public transport. You’ll find scores of killer beer bars like Apex, Saraveza, Hop & Vine, and Bailey’s Taproom. Add to that a fun organic beer festival, a massive waterfront beer party, a super cool beer bus, Biketoberfest, and over 500 food carts. There’s simply no other beer city like it.
What to drink: Urban Farmhouse, The Commons Brewery
Al fresco dining and drinking at Saraveza. (Courtesy: Saraveza)
Brewer and Weekly Pint Editorial Director Christian DeBenedetti is author of The Great American Ale Trail (Running Press), which won the Society of American Travel Writers’ Lowell Thomas Award for Best U.S. Guidebook in 2012, and his articles on travel, food, and drink have appeared in GQ, Outside, National Geographic Adventure, The New York Times, Bon Appétit, Esquire, NewYorker.com, Slate, Food & Wine, and Sunset.